“Nice shirt,” he commented, nudging the door shut with his toe.
I glanced down at myself, grinning. “Sorry.”
He laughed as he eased down beside me, placing the tray between us. “As I’ve said a hundred times before, I like seeing you in my clothes.”
A flush covered my cheeks. “I was too tired to put pants on.”
Peering up through his lashes, he grinned. “And I’m not going to complain about that.” He picked up a can of soda, popped the tab, and handed it to me. “I lost the battle of wills with Deacon.”
Deacon wanted to travel with us to New York. He felt, since he’d christened the name of our army, he was some kind of official mascot or something. Of course, Aiden wasn’t happy with that, and I couldn’t blame him. Deacon was safer here. Who knew what we’d meet on the road, and what we’d find in New York once we got there?
“I’ve told him about a million times that I’d feel better with him staying here.” He picked the breading off his tenders, causing me to smile. “But I’m not winning this battle.”
“He’ll probably just sneak out with us, anyway.” I bit half of my tender off, breaded skin and all. “And he’s worried, you know. Not just about you, but Luke, too.”
“I get that.” He tossed the breading onto the plate. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
I watched him meticulously remove more breading and then took a deep breath. “Speaking of not wanting people to get hurt and the whole keeping them safe thing? We need to talk about that.”
He peeked up, his fingers stilling. “Details?”
Finishing off my tender, I took a drink before I continued. “I’m not asking you to stay behind here, because I want you to go with me. And I know you wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Aiden lowered the chicken piece, his head tilting to the side. “Damn straight.”
“But I need you to know that I can’t face Ares with you by my side.” I rushed on, so that the words that were forming on his tongue couldn’t get out. “I know why you want to be there, and I respect that. Hell, I love you for that. But Ares is going to go after you to just get to me.”
He dropped the tender. “Alex, you’re asking the impossible.”
“No, I’m not.” I met his thundercloud-gray stare. “I love you, Aiden. I love you more than anything. And the fact that you want to be there for me is amazing. But I can’t have you there. Ares knows how much you mean to me, and you’ll be a distraction. I hate to say that, but it’s the truth.”
A muscle began to throb in his jaw. “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel insulted by that.”
“You’re not!” I resisted the urge to throw a piece of chicken in his face. “Look, I get that the idea of me going in there without you—”
“Makes me freaking sick to my stomach?”
“Well, yeah, that, but you have to understand that, because I love you, I don’t want to have to worry about Ares getting hold of you.”
The muscle was really ticking now. “And because I love you, that’s why asking me to let you do this by yourself is insane.”
Striving for patience, I shoved a handful of fries in my mouth before continuing. “I’m not going to be by myself. Seth will be there.”
“Oh, and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“Not like I haven’t tried to get him to change his mind too.” My eyes narrowed. “But he’s an Apollyon.”
“And I’m a trained Sentinel who can handle myself,” he shot back. “And besides, you think I’ll be safer with the army?”
“If I could have my way, you wouldn’t be there at all, but I’m not asking you to do that. I’ll feel better knowing that you’re not near Ares.” Wiping my hands off, I folded my arms. “And I know, deep down, you understand that.”
Silent, he picked up the tray and stood, placing it on the small desk. He turned to me and scrubbed both of his hands down his face. A wince creased his features as he lowered his arms. “Alex…”
“It’s the same reason why you don’t want Deacon with us, but I’m hoping—I’m praying—you’ll listen to me.” I tucked my legs under me and pulled down the hem of the shirt. “And seriously? You owe me.”
“I do?” He moved toward the bed.
I nodded. “Yeah. The whole soul and Hades thing? I don’t need you possibly dying next week and ending up as Hades’ henchman for eternity.”
“I’m not going to die, but you do realize being with the army isn’t exactly safe.”
Hope sparked in my chest. “But I know you will get through that. I know you will.” I couldn’t believe anything else. Truth was, being a part of that army was dangerous, but being there against Ares was suicidal.
Aiden eased down on the bed beside me. “I don’t like this.”
“You don’t have to like it. Just like I didn’t like the idea of you giving up your soul to Hades. All you have to do is understand it.”
The moment those words left my mouth, I internally patted myself on the shoulder. There were moments when my maturity surprised me.
He shifted onto his back, resting his hands on his flat stomach. His eyes were closed, and thick lashes brushed the tops of his cheeks. The muscle in his jaw thrummed along like a hummingbird, but as I watched him, it slowed down. Aiden took a deep breath, the ticking stopped, and he finally opened his eyes.
They were the softest shade of gray as they locked with mine. “I don’t agree with this. I hate it, Alex, but I get it. If it were the other way around, I wouldn’t want you near him. Hell, I don’t want you near him, but you have to. So, yeah, I’ll stay with the army.”
Relief eased the tense muscles in my shoulders and neck. I leaned over him, kissing his cheek. “Thank you. I know it wasn’t easy for you, so thank you.”
He rolled into his side, resting his head on his curved elbow. Reaching over, he skimmed his hand up my leg, swerving to miss a nasty bruise. “When are you and Seth going to do the whole transfer of power thing?”
“Good question.” Now that I’d worked this one thing out, it was time to figure out the next problem. “He wants to wait until we’re in the Catskills.”
His dark brows knitted. “Why?”
I shrugged a shoulder. “I really don’t know. He said something earlier about the power being hard to handle, so maybe he thinks I’ll crack and, I don’t know, start zapping everyone in sight.”
Aiden laughed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Yeah, I don’t know, though. My only other option is to hold him down and do it, and I don’t see that going well.”
He arched a brow. “I have no problem with that idea. I’ll gladly hold him down.”
A grin pulled at my lips. “You’re terrible.”
“Just being helpful.”
I kissed his cheek again and then sat back. “I’m going to try to talk to him again. I think we need to do it soon, before we leave for New York.”
“I agree.” His fingers toyed with the hem of the borrowed shirt.
In the quiet moments that followed, I leaned over again and kissed him for a third time. “For good luck,” I whispered. “We’re going to war.”
His lashes fluttered closed. “We are.”
“Did you ever think you’d be in this position?” I placed my hand on his smooth cheek, and he pressed into it. “I never did. Not in a million years,” I admitted.
“Me, neither.” He pressed his hand over mine, holding it there. “I don’t think any of us would have predicted this.”
I bit down on my lip. In that flash of a second, I felt incredibly… young. I wanted Aiden’s reassurance. “And you think it will get better afterward? Go back to normal?”
“I do.” He kissed my palm again. “Let’s talk about less depressing things. Do you still think there’s something up with Seth?”
I laughed. “Is that really a better conversation for you?”
“Maybe.” He grinned a little, and my heart toppled in my chest. “So?”
I started to respond, but there was a knock on the door. By the time I tugged the quilt over my legs, the door swung open and Deacon popped in, not even waiting for an invite.
The mop of blond curls bounced as he jumped to the foot of the bed. “Hi, guys!”
Aiden sat up slowly. “Hi, Deacon. Are you aware that it’s customary to wait until someone answers the door or says ‘come in?’”
“Not like I was interrupting anything. Both of you still have your clothes on.”
I laughed. “He has a point.”
Aiden shot me a “you’re not being helpful” look. “So, what’s up, Deacon?”
“Marcus is looking for you. He’s in the common room, so I figured it would be better if I was the one who checked in on you two, just in case you were naked.” He winked, and I smothered another giggle. “You’re welcome.”
Groaning, Aiden sat up. “Okay. You do have a point.”
“Thought so.” As his brother stood, Deacon dive-bombed the bed, causing me to bounce. He flicked my hand lightly. “Marcus wants to talk about the Council or some boring shit like that. His ladylove wants to talk plans about re-building. Then again, I sort of zoned out for half of the conversation.”
My brows rose. There was an open seat on the Council that had belonged to Aiden’s father. Since Aiden had never taken the seat, it was left open, something that had ticked away at Aiden. He knew that his father would’ve wanted him to follow in his footsteps rather than become a Sentinel.
Aiden ran a hand through his hair. “All right. Well, this should be interesting.”
His brother snorted. “I’ll stay here and keep Alex company.”
“You do that.” Aiden moved around the edge of the bed, swooped down, and kissed my cheek. “I’ll be back in a few.”
I waved him goodbye and watched him leave. Then I glanced at Deacon. My brows rose as his fingers flew over his cell phone. “Whatcha doing?” I asked.
“Just wait.” No more than a few seconds later, the door opened again and Luke and Olivia poked their hands in. Deacon tipped his head back, grinning up at me. “Slumber party?”
I laughed as I waved them in. “Sounds like a great idea.”
Olivia scooted in next to me, while Luke stretched out across the head of the bed. She reached over, grabbing the remote control. “We may be leaving for a few days to fight in a war, but that doesn’t mean we’re too old for a slumber party.”
“So very true.” I took the pillow Luke handed me and snuggled down.
The four of us watched a bad movie well into the night. It was one of the most relaxing moments I’d had in a long time. When they got up to leave, I sat up, holding the pillow to my chest.